I’ll never forget the day I walked into that hotel room. I was 22 years old at the time and my father, after a long battle with Huntington’s Disease, had taken his own life. There he was laying in front of me motionless, yet on his face was a look of relief.
He had tried to take his own life several times before and I knew that day would inevitably come, I just didn’t know when or how. That moment and day broke me as a person. I was now out in the world left to figure out life and how I was going to move forward. With all the overwhelming emotions in grief, I found myself crying randomly regardless of where I was or whom I was with. In my effort to get through my days without breaking down, I began using opioids as a way to numb myself out. At the time, it seemed a perfect way to cope as they helped me relax and stopped my emotions from surfacing when I was at school or with my then girlfriend.
My opioid use gradually escalated to where I became physically dependant and addicted. The downward spiral continued until I lost every that meant anything to me. My girlfriend at the time, who I loved dearly, ended our relationship. My family was embarrassed of me. My friends distanced themselves. I lost my father’s home that he left me and I spent six figures in cash on pills over 2 years.
I knew I needed to change so I began my journey to recovery through a harm reduction program and began methadone treatment. I start working again as a cashier to start rebuilding. Unfortunately by that point, I spent so much money on opioids that I had broken down to a point of living in poverty. I was going up to 4 days without eating, stealing my food to eat and went 2 years without gas in my home. I heated water on the stove to clean myself and curtained off my living room, using electric heaters to stay warm.
One day while working my cashier job, my life changed for the better. A customer came through my line and got so upset over the 50-cent difference in price on 3 apples that he threw a hard plastic sign into my face and cut my nose open. I quit my job that day, went home and reflected on my life.
I was 27 years old at the time and I was tired. Tired of stealing my food, tired of struggling to keep warm in the winter months, tired of working a job I hated.
I was tired of living day to day knowing that I was wasting the most valuable commodity we all have…time.
I decided that I wanted to live fully again and knew that it was going to be a difficult road to come back, but worth every moment if I put in the work and time. It began with creating my own system to figure out my direction: I drew 4 boxes and listed my passions, interests, hobbies and stuff I knew I hated in order to refine the results. In short, I wanted to cycle across Canada, film a documentary about the opioid crises and use my experiences to try to help others overcome their own battles with addiction and opioids.
First and foremost was that I needed to get off methadone. I had tried several times to get off before without success. The difference this time was that I was motivated and knew exactly what I wanted to do with myself when I was off, thus turning a seemingly insurmountable goal into a step toward something bigger.
I began the process of tapering from 120mg daily dose and over a year and a half tapered down to 0.5mg daily dose to ensure there were no withdrawal symptoms when I made the leap off. Over the year and a half I used the time to learn about everything I wanted to do. Since I did not have experience in film, journalism (interviewing people), public speaking, public relations and had not rode a bicycle in 8 years, I needed to start somewhere. I didn’t have internet access, much less a computer so I took the bus to the local library for 5-6 hours a day, 5 days a week and got to work.
As I tapered down off methadone, I noticed positive changes. I began to feel like myself again. It was like walking around in a black and white world with the colour slowly coming back. Where the childlike wonder to explore came back into my life without ever realizing I had lost it in the first place. I also started training for the ride and over 6 months of training had gained 20 pounds back. On January 27, 2014, I successfully completed the methadone program.
The feeling I had walking out of the clinic for the last time after 5 years is a shot in the arm I feel to this day.
However, there was no time to rest as I was leaving for my cross Canada ride in a few months. That summer for me was greatest adventure of my life. I cycled from Victoria, British Columbia to St. Johns, Newfoundland. Along the way, I had the privilege of interviewing Canadians across the country, documenting stories of those affected by the opioid crises. I also had the opportunity to live out the dreams I had thought about for years – I got to tee off a bucket of golf balls in the mountains of British Columbia, jumped out of an airplane over Montreal and white water rafted in northern Ontario.
In 2016, I completed a second ride across Canada, riding from Vancouver, B.C. to Halifax, N.S. raising awareness about Opioid Use Disorder through speaking and media. From there, I had the privilege of working on the 2017 Opioid Prescribing Guidelines for Chronic Non Cancer Pain and in 2018 was appointed by the Governor General and Canadian Minister of Health to the Board of Directors of the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.
What I’ve learned over the years is that the greatest lessons in our lives come from the difficulties we face. The adversity you face today will turn you into a better person tomorrow. If you can learn to embrace it and use it to your advantage, you will become unsinkable.